Adventure ally blog spot

Welcome to the Adventure Ally blog spot! Here, Adventure Ally will regularly share blog pieces, often reflecting on current affairs. Here at Adventure Ally, we believe it is important to reflect on our natural world with a scientific eye, have a read, and let us know what you think! Remember, you can join us at Adventure Ally for your very own adventure, feel free to explore the rest of the website for more.

Oceans - 28/07/2020

As we look towards the Glasgow Climate Conference (November 2021), I am reminded of a quote from April last year.
 
On the BBC documentary "Climate Change the Facts", Sir David Attenborough delved into the science of climate change, its global threat, the horrific storms and adverse weather conditions it has caused.  Warning us of “a catastrophe of irreversible damage to the natural world of our societies”
 
But it inspired us with hope telling us we needed to take “drastic action to limit its effects over the next decade”.
 
Our Oceans represent our greatest chance of drastic action covering 73% of our Earth’s surface and supplying us with 50-80% of the oxygen we breathe.  A simple 1% increase in world's phytoplankton populations would have the same effect as the miraculous appearance of 2 billion mature trees.  Plankton alone accounts for four times the consumption of CO2 as the Amazon rainforest.
 
To focus greater effort on the conservation of our oceans automatically prolongs our existence on this planet.  Besides, we do not need to worry about saving the planet per se, as it has already survived five mass extinctions.  As George Cuvier first noticed “species go extinct as conditions prevail.”  However our understanding of the past and present and the massive impact we have on our planet, makes us responsible to pass it on to future generations as a liveable home for our species and all the other flora and fauna that call it their home. Yet, as a species we flood our oceans with commercial litter, toxic chemicals and plastics as we rape and plunder it’s marine inhabitants for food, cosmetics, textiles and trinkets
 
Over 155 million tonnes of sea food is consumed annually; this amount of food is needed to sustain our ever-growing population. Over 50% of this is now raised in aquaculture rather than wild caught.  Whilst this does relieve pressure from wild fish populations, more needs to be done with organisations such as Marine Conservation Society and WWF producing good fish guides with a list of sustainable species being the first step in public education.

Simply the protection of our oceans and its ecological balance is the protection we need from climate change, as it ensures us the oxygen we breathe. Yet every year we kill more than one hundred million sharks, one hundred thousand dolphins and turtles and two thousand whales.
 
These are amongst the most important animals that protect and balance our oceanic eco-systems yet we destroy the very species that protect our existence. A single individual of any one of the great whale species can easily absorb over thirty tonnes of carbon in its lifetime, when sinking to the seabed as it dies; it takes these tonnes of carbon with it and traps it there for centuries.
 
Even whale poo contributes to our oxygen availability and prolongs our existence.  The gigantic Blue Whale weighing up to one hundred and fifty tonnes, constrained by pressure defecates on the surface. Its plume of poo is ten million times higher in iron concentration than the surrounding salt water.  The iron becomes an electron carrier and a catalyst for photosynthesis, providing us with the oxygen we need, and consuming the carbon we need to remove, to start to turn the tide on climate change.  Carbon is even absorbed by plankton in the formation of their shells, removing yet more from the atmosphere.
 
The phytoplankton (seaweed-plankton) feeds the krill which feeds a myriad of the upper level species of the complex marine eco-systems.  Whilst whale populations are on the increase following the demise of international commercial whaling in 1986, it’s not plain sailing yet.  Since the 1970’s Atlantic krill populations have plummeted by 80% due to the lack of Whale pooh, climate change, pollution and over fishing. 
 
Yet Japan, Iceland and Norway still practice whaling!
 
Still more species need to be protected as much as whales.  With over 500 species, sharks often play the role of apex predictors in their marine homes, and have a vital role in protecting the oceans by keeping the eco-system balanced.  Catching the slower fish, leaving the faster to breed makes the next generation healthier.  Eating the sick fish, stops the spread of diseases and by preventing over grazing by smaller fish species on coral and plankton they ensure constant oxygen levels.  Sharks are fundamentally as important to life on land as they are to life in the oceans.
 

The poor understanding of how much humans are linked to the health of our oceans, results in the mindless slaughter of sharks, be it for fins for soup, jaws as trophies or beach protection is detrimental for our own existence.  The economical reasons justifying this marine murder is idiosyncratic and short sighted behaviour-which needs to change sooner rather than later.
 
The middle age practice of beach protection by shark cull targets the shark species posing a potential threat to recreational water users. but many more innocent creatures, birds, mammals and fish are all killed for our own peace of mind in shark nets and drum lines.
 
The SharkSafe Barrier technology (www.sharksafesolution.com), developed by an international team of scientists, including Stellenbosch University’s Dr. Sara Andreotti uses the combination of a visual deterrent and a magnetic field to separate sharks from water users with zero animal casualties. Also it costs much less on maintenance than any shark cull programme.  Between  2009 -2010 New South Wales alone spent one million Australian dollars on the upkeep of their nets.
 

Dr.C.P. O’Connel and Dr. Sara Andreotti et.al “Testing the exclusion capabilities and durability of the SharkSafe Barrier to determine its viability as an eco-friendly alternative to the current shark culling methodologies”
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/aqc.2803

 Aquatic Conservation Marine and Fresh Water Ecosystems. Volume 28 issue 1 February 2018 pp252-258.

 
From 2012 to 2016 The SharkSafe Barrier was tested on Bull sharks and White sharks.  The latest experiment in South Africa included building a 13m x 13m square exclusion zone with 34 tests successfully completed.  The exclusion zone protected by the SharkSafe Barrier was baited in the middle and yet no Great White Sharks  (Carcharadoncarcharias) entered the exclusion area, and no innocent lives were taken in the process.
 
Shark nets were initially deployed in KwaZulu-Natal in 1952 and Australia in 1957. In South Africa alone in 30 years according to Shark Angels 33,000 sharks, 2,000 dolphins, 2,000 turtles and 8,000 rays were killed.  Creatures merely swimming in their marine habitats .
 
The 2,000 turtles comprised of Loggerheads (VU), Leatherback (VU), Olive Ridley (VU) Green (EN), and Hawksbill (CE).  Only the first two species breed in these areas so the latter three are transient migratory travellers.

 

S G Wilson et al “Movement of Whale Sharks (Rhincodon typus) tagged at Ningaloo Reef Western Australia”.
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00227-005-0153-8

 Marine Biology vol 145 issue 5 pp 1157-1166, found that Whale Sharks departing Ningaloo Reef departed on migration into the Indian Ocean.
 
 With migratory turtle and shark species barbarically killed by these shark nets, these choices of methodologies for “beach protection” are going openly against the Convention of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (The Bonn Convention). So shouldn’t Japan, Norway, Iceland, South Africa and Australia all be held accountable for their lack of co-operation in the Paris Climate Treaty 2015 which they all signed?  For the removal of these integral species directly involved in the regulation of the carbon cycle does not help reduce the effects of climate change.
 
In the early days of bipedal primates it was essential to protect ourselves from wild life in order to survive.  Now our survival relies on the protection of wildlife.
 
 
Photography credits to Holly Richmond of The Shark Net Film. http://www.thesharknetfilm.com/
 
Inspiration and dedication to conservation thank you to Shark Safe Barrier for fighting for a better future.
https://www.sharksafesolution.com/

An environmental pandemic - 07/05/2020

With the UK in its 6th week of official lockdown (with many individuals voluntarily commencing earlier) much has been touted about the rejuvenation of wildlife in man’s absence, from Dolphins and Swans in Venice to Sea Turtles in India.

With a drastic decrease in global human activity, is wildlife really reaping the rewards of our lockdown or is it merely an illusion through rose tinted glasses?

Italy was one of Europe’s first nations to assert lockdown measures as early as the 9th of March. By the 20th of March reports of Swans and Dolphin reclaiming the marine urbanisation of Venice began surfacing across social and mainstream media, boosting moral in a time of despair.

However, these images represent a misconception of Earth’s ability to heal. The Swans can be seen regularly on the canals of Burano and the footage of the Dolphin coming from a port in Sardinia is hundreds of miles from the supposed appearance in Venice!

Sadly the craving for viral popularity and man’s need to appease its conscience after generations of unsustainable environmental debauchery eager to show that the Earth can begin regeneration in a few short weeks was too high a temptation to be resisted.

From Jackals howling in Hayarkon park in Tel Aviv to African penguins in Cape Town, wildlife’s march in to urban areas in man’s absence can be seen across the globe, is this really a sign of wildlife recovery?

More likely a sign of wildlife reclaiming its land, as centuries of population growth has led to settlements expansion leaving wildlife with a fraction of its former habitat.

There are however genuine positives to be taken from the current situation, maybe not as iconic as Dolphins in Venice, Andrew Kerr from the Sustainable EEL Group reports larger populations of eels present in the River Severn with figures at their highest for the last 25 years. These young eels having migrated back to the Severn from the Sargasso Sea in order to grow on to maturity.

The inundation of news and evidence of Turtles nesting on Mumbai beach for the first time in over 20 years was discredited by “India today” who reported no nesting Turtles in 2020, the photograph instead being from 2019. This hoax however highlights the impact man can have on correcting our desecration of the environment; in 2018 one of the largest beach clean-up operations ever recorded took place on Mumbai beach! It is this effort that allowed the Turtle to nest on the beach and this achievement we should be celebrating, not the fake news the media presents us with!

 

As the flight paths clear in the wake of travel restrictions and once congested motor ways flow freely under a minimal load it is quite clear the atmosphere is becoming a lot less saturated by emissions from traffic.

DEFRA (Department for energy and rural affairs) compared the nitrogen dioxide levels from March 24th 2010 to March 26th 2019 across several British cities. With Edinburgh showing the greatest reduction from 74 micro grams per metre cubed to 28! London fell from 58 micrograms per metre cubed to 30 in 2020!

Sadly, it has taken a global pandemic to help lower these levels, this could be a blessing in disguise as many governments maintain it is impossible to comply with air quality compliance targets already in place!

These restrictions in global travel however do have an adverse effect in places too. Ecotourism is one of the fastest growing sectors in the tourist industry and is heavily reliant on foreign travel. Many NGO (Non Governmental Organisations) rely on visitors to fund these conservation projects meaning many protectors of the world’s most endangered species of flora and fauna are being forced to close. These organisations also act as the eyes and ears of many anti poaching objectives.

In early April in Cambodia, 3 critically endangered Giant Ibis were killed for meat due to the lack of protection. So is the world about to see a surge in poaching as we sit in lock down?

After 6 critically endangered Black Rhino were poached from the Okavango Delta in Botswana other individuals were evacuated to safer vicinity.

The numbers of local employees in ecotourism who have lost their jobs and livelihoods has been astronomical. These people still need to eat and provide for their families in these times of desperation, and coupled with lower poaching vigilance this can equate to a catastrophic impact on wildlife populations with Kenya’s bush meat trade rising parallel to unemployment figures. Ecotourism when done correctly not only plays a vital part in conservation, it plays a pivotal role in socio economic balancing of some of the world’s least economically developed nations.

So we can see the dramatic decrease in human activity had a near instantaneous effect on our emissions improving the quality of air overnight.

In terms of wildlife it is a longer process to improve populations, we must first improve their environments in order for them to flourish.

The importance of sustainable ecotourism shines through as employment plummets and vigilance drops. Desperation and starvation creep in leaving some of the most at risk species even more vulnerable.

What humans must take from this pandemic is our reliance on Earth for our survival.

Simply put, taking care of the Earth is taking care of our future! As biodiversity decreases we reduce natural filters protecting us from future pandemics.

There have been many calls to rethink our lifestyles during this outbreak! We need to open our eyes. We only have one planet, a global strategy working towards a more sustainable future is the only way to ensure our continued existence.

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